WASHINGTON—ERDC construction Engineering Research Laboratory (CERL) and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) are co-recipients of the Grand Prize in the Excellence in Environmental and Science Competition, University Research category. Drs. Byung Kim and Michael Kemme share the honor with UIUC collaborator Dr. Mark Rood. The award was presented in Washington, D.C., April 21 by the American Academy of Environmental Engineers & Scientists.
The three were lauded for developing and patenting the Digital Optical Method (DOMTM), which uses low-cost digital cameras or smart phones to photograph fluids such as smoke and dust from stationary sources. A computer program then quantifies the plume’s opacity to assess compliance with environmental laws for air pollution. DOMTM provides a more objective alternative to the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) Method 9, which has long been the standard for assessing smoke opacity from industrial stacks. Method 9 relies on human visual perception to measure opacity. It is costly because plume readers are required to be certified and then recertified every six months at smoke schools in every U.S. state. The validity, accuracy and precision of Method 9 are often challenged in court cases, partially because of the reliance on smoke reader’s subjective testimony. EPA’s Office of Air Quality Planning and Standards estimates that total opacity compliance costs are close to $200 million a year. These costs include sending personnel to the certification school for two to three days plus tuition and travel, plus the repeated recertifications.
If DOMTM technology were used instead of Method 9 throughout the United States, the labor savings would be significant and opacity disputes in court cases could be substantially reduced. For the U.S. Army alone, DOMTM is expected to save several million dollars annually. The research team is working to partner with industry to bring DOMTM into the marketplace.